100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

TODO

How People See

1. WHAT YOU SEE ISN’T WHAT YOUR BRAIN GETS

THE BRAIN CREATES SHORTCUTS

Your brain creates these shortcuts in order to quickly make sense out of the world around you. Your brain receives millions of sensory inputs every second (the estimate is 40 million) and it’s trying to make sense of all of that input. It uses rules of thumb, based on past experience, to make guesses about what you see. Most of the time that works, but sometimes it causes errors.

If you need to see in the dark, don’t look straight ahead.

The eye has 7 million cones that are sensitive to bright light and 125 million rods that are sensitive to low light. The cones are in the fovea (central area of vision) and rods are less central. So if you’re in low light, you’ll see better if you don’t look right at the area you’re trying to see.

Optical illusions show us the errors

Optical illusions show us the errors

We see in 2D, not 3D The visual cortex puts all the information together

takeaways

What you think people are going to see on your Web page may not be what they do see. It might depend on their background, knowledge, familiarity with what they are looking at, and expectations.

You might be able to persuade people to see things in a certain way, depending on how they are presented.

2. PERIPHERAL VISION IS USED MORE THAN CENTRAL VISION TO GET THE GIST OF WHAT YOU SEE

Central vision is what you use to look at things directly and to see details. Peripheral vision encompasses the rest of the visual field—areas that are visible, but that you’re not looking at directly.

Why blinking on a screen is so annoying Peripheral vision kept our ancestors alive on the savannah

takeways

People use peripheral vision when they look at a computer screen, and usually decide what a page is about based on a quick glimpse of what is in their peripheral vision. Although the middle of the screen is important for central vision, don’t ignore what is in the viewers’ peripheral vision. Make sure the information in the periphery communi- cates clearly the purpose of the page and the site. If you want users to concentrate on a certain part of the screen, don’t put animation or blinking elements in their peripheral vision.

3. PEOPLE IDENTIFY OBJECTS BY RECOGNIZING PATTERNS

THE GEON THEORY OF OBJECT RECOGNITION

An early theory was that the brain has a memory bank that stores millions of objects, and when you see an object, you compare it with all the items in your memory bank until you find the one that matches. But research now suggests that you recognize basic shapes in what you are looking at, and use these basic shapes, called geometric icons (or geons), to identify objects. Irving Biederman came up with the idea of geons in 1985 (Figure 3.2). It’s thought that there are 24 basic shapes that we recognize; they form the building blocks of all the objects we see and identify.

takeaways

Use patterns as much as possible, since people will automatically be looking for them. Use grouping and white space to create patterns. If you want people to recognize an object (for example, an icon), use a simple geomet- ric drawing of the object. This will make it easier to recognize the underlying geons, and thus make the object easier and faster to recognize. Favor 2D elements over 3D ones. The eyes communicate what they see to the brain as a 2D object. 3D representations on the screen may actually slow down recognition and comprehension.

4. THERE’S A SPECIAL PART OF THE BRAIN JUST FOR RECOGNIZING FACES

Imagine that you’re walking down a busy street in a large city when you suddenly see the face of a family member. Even if you were not expecting to see this person, and even if there are dozens, or even hundreds, of people in your visual field, you will imme- diately recognize him or her as your relative. You’ll also have an accompanying emo- tional response, be it love, hate, fear, or otherwise. Although the visual cortex is huge and takes up significant brain resources, there is a special part of the brain outside the visual cortex whose sole purpose is to recognize faces. Identified by Nancy Kanwisher (1997), the fusiform face area (FFA) allows faces to bypass the brain’s usual interpretive channels and helps us identify them more quickly than objects. The FFA is also near the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center.

takeaways

People recognize and react to faces on Web pages faster than anything else on the page (at least by those who are not autistic). Faces looking right at people will have the greatest emotional impact on a Web page, probably because the eyes are the most important part of the face. If a face on a Web page looks at another spot or product on the page, people will also tend to look at that product. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they paid attention to it, just that they physically looked at it.

5. PEOPLE IMAGINE OBJECTS TILTED AND AT A SLIGHT ANGLE ABOVE

takeaways

People recognize a drawing or object faster and remember it better if it’s shown in the canonical perspective. If you have icons at your Web site or in your Web or software application, draw them from a canonical perspective.

6. PEOPLE SCAN SCREENS BASED ON PAST EXPERIENCE AND EXPECTATIONS

After a first glance at a screen, people move in their culture’s normal reading pattern (left to right, right to left, top to bottom). If something grabs their attention, for example, a large photo (especially one with someone’s face) or movement (an animated banner or video) somewhere else on the screen, then you can pull them away from this normal tendency.

takeaways

Put the most important information (or things you want people to focus on) in the top third of the screen or in the middle. Avoid putting anything important at the edges, since people tend not to look there. Design the screen or page so that people can move in their normal reading pattern. Avoid a pattern where people have to bounce back and forth to many parts of the screen to accomplish a task.

7. PEOPLE SEE CUES THAT TELL THEM WHAT TO DO WITH AN OBJECT

This door handle reads PUSH but its design encourages you to pull

This door handle reads PUSH but its design encourages you to pull

takeaways

Think about affordance cues when you design. By giving people cues about what they can do with a particular object, you make it more likely that they will take that action. Use shading to show when an object is chosen or active. Avoid providing incorrect affordance cues. Rethink hover cues if you’re designing for a device that uses touch rather than a point- ing device.

8. PEOPLE CAN MISS CHANGES IN THEIR VISUAL FIELDS

The “Gorilla video” is an example of inattention blindness or change blindness.

The Invisible Gorilla,

takeaways

Don’t assume that people will see something on a computer screen just because it’s there. This is especially true when you refresh a screen and make one change on it. Users may not even realize they are even looking at a different screen. If you want to be sure that people notice a change in their visual fields, add additional visual cues (such as blinking) or auditory cues (such as a beep). Be cautious about how you interpret eye-tracking data. Don’t ascribe too much impor- tance to it or use it as the main basis for design decisions.

9. PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT THINGS THAT ARE CLOSE TOGETHER BELONG TOGETHER

takeaways

If you want items (pictures, photos, headings, or text) to be seen as belonging together, then put them in close proximity. Before you use lines or boxes to separate items or group them together, try experi- menting with the amount of space between them first. Sometimes changing the spac- ing is sufficient, and you’ll be reducing the visual noise of the page. Put more space between items that don’t go together and less space between items that do. This sounds like common sense, but many Web page layouts ignore this idea.

10. RED AND BLUE TOGETHER ARE HARD ON THE EYES

When lines or text of different colors are projected or printed, the depths of the lines may appear to be different. One color may jump out while another color appears recessed. This effect is called chromostereopsis. The effect is strongest with red and blue, but it can also happen with other colors, for example, red and green. These color combina- tions can be hard and tiring to look at or read.

takeaways

Avoid putting blue and red or green and red near each other on a page or screen. Avoid blue or green text on a red background, and red or green text on a blue background.

11. NINE PERCENT OF MEN AND ONE-HALF PERCENT OF WOMEN ARE COLOR-BLIND

The term color blindness is actually a misnomer. Most people who are “color-blind” are not blind to all colors, but really have a color deficiency that makes it hard for them to see differences between some colors. Most color blindness is hereditary, although some can be acquired through disease or injury. Most of the color genes are on the X chromosome. Since men have only one X chromosome and women have two, men are more likely to have problems with color vision than women.

takeaways

Check your images and Web sites with www.vischeck.com or colorfilter.wickline.org to see how they will look to someone who is color-blind. If you use color to imply a certain meaning (for example, items in green need immedi- ate attention), use a redundant coding scheme (items in green and with a box around them need immediate attention). When designing color coding, consider colors that work for everyone, for example, varying shades of brown and yellow. Avoid red, green, and blue.

12. THE MEANINGS OF COLORS VARY BY CULTURE

For example, in the U.S. white signi-

fies purity and is used at weddings, but in other cultures white is the color used for death and funerals. Happiness is associated with white, green, yellow, or red, depending on the part of the world you are in.

takeaways

Choose your colors carefully, taking into account the meaning that the colors may invoke. Pick a few major cultures or countries that you will be reaching with your design and check them on the cultural color chart from InformationIsBeautiful.net to be sure you’re avoiding unintended color associations for that culture

How People Read

With adult literacy rates now over 80 percent worldwide, reading is a primary form of communication for most people. But how do we read? And what should designers know about reading?

13. IT’S A MYTH THAT CAPITAL LETTERS ARE INHERENTLY HARD TO READ

Our eyes move in quick, sharp jumps, with short periods of stillness in between. The jumps are called saccades (about seven to nine letters at a time) and the moments of stillness are called fixations (about 250 milliseconds long). During the saccades, we can’t see anything—we’re essentially blind—but the move- ments are so fast that we don’t even realize they’re happening. Our eyes look forward during most of the saccades, but they look backward 10 to 15 percent of the time, reread- ing letters and words.

Kevin Larson wrote a great article summarizing the research on uppercase versus mixed case: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx

takeaways

People perceive all capitals as shouting, and they’re unused to reading them, so use all uppercase sparingly. Save all capital letters for headlines, and when you need to get someone’s attention, for example, before deleting an important file.

14. READING AND COMPREHENDING ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Formula

Eevn touhgh the wrosd are srcmaelbd, cahnecs are taht you can raed tihs praagarph aynawy. The order of the ltteers in each word is not vrey ipmrotnat. But the frsit and lsat ltteer msut be in the rhgit psotitoin. The ohter ltetres can be all mxeid up and you can sitll raed whtiuot a lot of porbelms. This is bceusae radenig is all aobut atciniptanig the nxet word.

http://www.standards-schmandards.com/exhibits/rix/index.php

In a study by Anderson and Pichert (1978), people read a story about a house and the contents within the house. One group was told to read the story from a buyer’s standpoint, and another group was told to read the story from a burglar’s point of view. The information they remembered after reading the story differed depending on their viewpoint.

takeaways

People are active readers. What they understand and remember from what they read depends on their previous experience, their point of view while reading, and the instructions they are given beforehand. Don’t assume that people will remember specific information in what they read. Provide a meaningful title or headline. It’s one of the most important things you can do. Tailor the reading level of your text to your audience. Use simple words and fewer syl- lables to make your material accessible to a wider audience.

15. PATTERN RECOGNITION HELPS PEOPLE IDENTIFY LETTERS IN DIFFERENT FONTS

If the text used for instructions is hard to read, as it is in the second text sample, the reader likewise will think the instructions are hard to do

takeaways

Serif and sans serif fonts are equal in terms of readability. Unusual or overly decorative fonts can interfere with pattern recognition and slow down reading. If people have trouble reading the font, they will transfer that feeling of difficulty to the meaning of the text itself and decide that the subject of the text is hard to do or understand.

16. FONT SIZE MATTERS

takeaways

Choose a point size that is large enough for people of various ages to read comfortably. Use a font with a large x-height for online viewing so that the type will appear to be larger.

17. READING A COMPUTER SCREEN IS HARDER THAN READING PAPER

Black text on a white background is easiest to read

takeaways

Use a large point size for text that will be read on a computer screen. This will help to minimize eye strain. Break text up into chunks. Use bullets, short paragraphs, and pictures. Provide ample contrast between foreground and background. Black text on a white background is the most readable. Make sure your content is worth reading. In the end, it all boils down to whether or not the text on the page is of interest to your audience.

18. PEOPLE READ FASTER WITH A LONGER LINE LENGTH, BUT THEY PREFER A SHORTER LINE LENGTH

People read faster with one single-wide column, but they prefer multiple columns

takeaways

Line length presents a quandary: Do you give people the short line length and multiple columns that they prefer, or go against their own preference and intuition, knowing that they will read faster if you use a longer line length and a single column? Use a longer line length (100 characters per line) if reading speed is an issue. Use a shorter line length (45 to 72 characters per line) if reading speed is less critical. For a multipage article, consider using multiple columns and a short line length (45 characters per line).

HOW PEOPLE REMEMBER

19. SHORT-TERM MEMORY IS LIMITED

takeaways

Don’t ask people to remember information from one place to another, such as reading letters or numbers on one page and then entering them on another page; if you do, they’ll probably forget the information and get frustrated. If you ask people to remember things in working memory, don’t ask them to do any- thing else until they’ve completed that task. Working memory is sensitive to interfer- ence—too much sensory input will prevent them from focusing attention.

20. PEOPLE REMEMBER ONLY FOUR ITEMS AT ONCE

If you’re familiar with usability, psychology, or memory research, you’ve probably heard the phrase ”the magical number seven, plus or minus two.”

takeaways

If you could limit the information you give people to four items, that would actually be a great idea, but you don’t have to be that drastic. You can use more pieces of informa- tion as long as you group and chunk. Include no more than four items in each chunk. Be aware that people tend to use external aids (notes, lists, calendars, appointment books) so they don’t have to rely on memory.

21. PEOPLE HAVE TO USE INFORMATION TO MAKE IT STICK

takeaways

If you want people to remember something, then you have to go over it again and again. Practice really does make perfect. One of the major reasons to do user or customer research is so that you can identify and understand the schemata that your particular target audience has. If people already have a schema that relates to information that you are providing, make sure you point out what that schema is. It will be easier for them to learn and remember the information if they can plug it into an existing schema.

22. IT’S EASIER TO RECOGNIZE INFORMATION THAN RECALL IT

Recognition makes use of context. And context can help you remember.

The schema probably helped you remember items on the list, but it might also have caused you to make errors of inclusion.

+ Children make fewer inclusion errors

When children under age five are shown items or pictures and then asked what they remember, they actually make fewer errors of inclusion than adults because their sche- mata are not as well formed.

takeaways

Eliminate memory load whenever possible. Many user interface design guidelines and interface features have evolved over the years to mitigate issues with human memory. Try not to require people to recall information. It’s much easier for them to recognize information than recall it from memory.

23. MEMORY TAKES A LOT OF MENTAL RESOURCES

takeaways

Use concrete terms and icons. They will be easier to remember. Let people rest (and even sleep) if you want them to remember information. Try not to interrupt people if they are learning or encoding information. Information in the middle of a presentation will be the least likely to be remembered.

24. PEOPLE RECONSTRUCT MEMORIES EACH TIME THEY REMEMBER THEM

takeaways

If you’re testing or interviewing customers about a product, the words you use can affect greatly what people “remember.” Don’t rely on self-reports of past behavior. People will not remember accurately what they or others did or said. Take what people say after the fact—when they are remembering using your product, for instance, or remembering the experience of calling your customer service line— with a grain of salt.

25. IT’S A GOOD THING THAT PEOPLE FORGET

In 1886, Hermann Ebbinghaus created a formula showing the degradation of memories: R = e (−t/S) Where R is memory retention, S is the relative strength of memory, and t is time. The formula results in a graph that looks like Figure 25.1. It’s called the Forgetting Curve,

takeaways

People are always going to forget. What people forget is not a conscious decision. Design with forgetting in mind. If some information is really important, don’t rely on people to remember it. Provide it for them in your design, or have a way for them to easily look it up.

26. THE MOST VIVID MEMORIES ARE WRONG

Remembering traumatic or dramatic events in great detail is called “flashbulb memory.” Emotions are processed in the amygdala, which is very close to the hippocampus, which is involved in the long-term coding of information into memories. So it’s no surprise to psy- chologists that emotionally laden memories might be very strong and remembered vividly.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showed that memories degrade quickly over time. Because flashbulb memories are so vivid, it was thought that perhaps they were not as subject to forgetting as other memories. But it turns out they are. That’s kind of disturbing when you think about it. Because these memories are so vivid, we tend to think they are more true. But we are wrong.

takeaways

If you know that someone had a dramatic or traumatic experience, you need to understand two things: 1. They’ll be convinced that what they remember is true and 2. It isn’t exactly true!

HOW PEOPLE THINK

The brain has 23 billion neurons. That’s a lot of capacity for men- tal processing. So what’s going on in there? Understanding how people think is crucial if you’re going to design for them. Just as there are visual illusions, there are also thinking illusions. This chapter describes some of the interesting things the brain does as it makes sense of the world.

27. PEOPLE PROCESS INFORMATION BETTER IN BITE-SIZED CHUNKS

In fact, they won’t even notice they’re clicking if they’re getting the right amount of information at each click to keep them going down the path. Think progres- sive disclosure; don’t count clicks.

The term progressive disclosure was first used by J.M. Keller. Keller is a professor of instructional design, and in the early 1980s he came up with an instructional design model called Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction (ARCS). Progressive disclosure is part of the ARCS model: present only the information the learner needs at that moment.

takeaways

Use progressive disclosure. Show people what they need when they need it. Build in links for them to get more information. If you have to make a trade-off on clicks versus thinking, use more clicks and less thinking. Before you use progressive disclosure, make sure you’ve done your research and know what most people want and when they want it.

28. SOME TYPES OF MENTAL PROCESSING ARE MORE CHALLENGING THAN OTHERS

In human factors terminology, these are called loads. The theory is that there are basically three different kinds of demands or loads that you can make on a person: cognitive (including memory), visual, and motor.

So from a human factors point of view, the order of the loads from most “expensive” to least is:

Cognitive Visual Motor

The formula for Fitt’s Law

T = a + b log 2 1 + D W)

T is the average time taken to complete the movement (sometimes called MT for Movement Time). a is the start/stop time of the device (intercept) and b stands for the inherent speed of the device (slope). D is the distance from the starting point to the center of the target. W is the width of the target measured along the axis of motion.

One type of motor load is when people have to switch back and forth between a key- board and a mouse or trackpad. This is especially true of people who are doing “heads down” data entry. If someone is typing or entering data from paper, and they do it a lot and are very skilled, chances are they are not looking at anything but the paper (hence the term “heads down”). In this case it can be distracting to move from keyboard to mouse. If possible, keep people on the keyboard or with the mouse as long as possible and minimize the switching.

takeaways

Evaluate the loads of an existing product to see if you should reduce one or more of the loads to make it easier to use. When you design a product, remember that making people think or remember (cognitive load) requires the most mental resources. Look for trade-offs, for example, where you can reduce a cognitive load by increasing a visual or motor load. Make sure your targets are large enough to be easily reached.

29. MINDS WANDER 30 PERCENT OF THE TIME

Some neuroscientists became interested in studying wandering minds because they were such an annoyance while doing brain scan research (Mason, 2007). The research- ers would have subjects perform a certain task (for example, look at a picture or read a passage) while scanning for brain activity. About 30 percent of the time there would be extraneous results that seemed unrelated to the task at hand. That’s because the subject’s mind was wandering from the task at hand. Eventually researchers decided to start studying the wandering mind rather than just get annoyed by it.

takeaways

People will only focus on a task for a limited time. Assume that their minds are wander- ing often. If possible, use hyperlinks to grab onto this idea of quickly switching from topic to topic. People like Web surfing because it enables this type of wandering. Make sure you build in feedback about where people are so that if they wander, it’s easier for them to get back to the original location or go to the next.

30. the more uncertain people are, the more they defend their ideas

takeaways

Don’t spend a lot of time trying to change someone’s ingrained beliefs. The best way to change a belief is to get someone to commit to something very small. Don’t just give people evidence that their belief is not logical, or tenable, or a good choice. This may backfire and make them dig in even harder.

31. people create mental models

The first person to talk about mental models was Kenneth Craik in his 1943 book, The Nature of Explanation. Shortly thereafter, Craik died in a bicycle accident and the con- cept went dormant for many years. It reappeared in the 1980s, when two books were published with the title Mental Models, one by Philip Johnson-Laird and the other by Dedre Gentner.

“A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works (i.e., a person’s understanding of the surrounding world). Mental models are based on incomplete facts, past experiences, and even intuitive perceptions. They help shape actions and behavior, influence what people pay attention to in complicated situations, and define how people approach and solve problems.”

People refer to mental models to predict what the system, software, or product is going to do, or what they should do with it.

takeaways

People always have a mental model. People get their mental models from past experience. Not everyone has the same mental model. An important reason for doing user or customer research is so you can understand the mental models of your target audience.

32. people interact with conceptual models

takeaways

Design the conceptual model purposefully. Don’t let it “bubble up” from the technology. The secret to designing an intuitive user experience is making sure that the conceptual model of your product matches, as much as possible, the mental models of your audi- ence. If you get that right, you will have created a positive and useful experience. If you have a brand new product that you know will not match anyone’s mental model, you’ll need to provide training to prepare people to create a new mental model.

33. people process information best in story form

You may have realized that what I did in the paragraph above was tell a story. Stories are very powerful. They grab and hold attention. But they do more than that. They also help people process information and they imply causation.

The Great Journey Love Coming of Age Fate The Sacrifice Revenge The Epic Battle The Trick The Fall from Grace Mystery

STORIES IMPLY CAUSATION

Stories may create causation when none is there. Because stories usually involve some form of chronological narrative (first this happens, next this happens), they imply causa- tion even where none exists. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons give this example in their book The Invisible Gorilla (2010). Look at these two passages: Joey’s big brother punched him again and again. The next day his body was covered by bruises. Joey’s crazy mother became furiously angry with him. The next day his body was covered by bruises. In the first passage you don’t need to assume much. Joey got punched and he has bruises. He got the bruises from being punched. In the second passage the inference is not quite so clear. Research shows that your brain will actually take a little bit longer to ponder the second paragraph. Yet most people will conclude that Joey has bruises because of his mother, even though the passage doesn’t say that. In fact, if you ask people later to remember the passage, they will believe that they read in the story that Joey’s mother actually hit him, even though that is not what the paragraph says.

takeaways

Stories are the natural way people process information. Use a story if you want people to make a causal leap. Stories aren’t just for fun. No matter how dry you think your information is, using stories will make it understandable, interesting, and memorable.

34. people learn best from examples

Screen shots or pictures are not the only way to provide examples. At the MailChimp site there are also links to videos that walk you through the same steps (Figure 34.2). Video is one of the most effective ways to give examples online. Videos combine move- ment, sound, and vision, and don’t require reading, so they are attention-getting and engaging.

takeaways

People learn best by example. Don’t just tell people what to do. Show them. Use pictures and screen shots to show by example. Better yet, use short videos as examples.

35. people are driven to create categories

If you’re between the ages of 5 and 60 and grew up with a television in the U.S., you probably know what I mean if I say, “One of these things is not like the other.” This is a snippet from the popular children’s show Sesame Street.

The purpose of this Sesame Street lesson is to teach young children how to notice differences, and essentially how to start to learn to categorize. Interestingly, it’s probably unnecessary, and perhaps even ineffective, to try and teach children how to create categories for two reasons: People naturally create categories. Just as learning a native language hap- pens naturally, so does learning to categorize the world around us. Categorizing doesn’t emerge as a skill until about age seven. Thinking about categories just doesn’t make sense to children before that. After age seven, however, kids become fascinated with categorizing information.

takeaways

People like to put things into categories. If there is a lot of information and it is not in categories, people will feel overwhelmed and try to organize the information on their own. It’s always a good idea to organize information for your audience as much as possible. Keep in mind the four-item rule from the “How People Remember” chapter. It’s useful to get input from people on what organization schemes make the most sense to them, but the critical thing is that you organize the material. What you call things is often more important than how you have it organized. If you’re designing sites for children under age seven, any organization into categories you are doing is probably more for the adults in that child’s world, not for the child.

36. time is relative

Let’s say you’re editing video on your computer. You’ve just clicked the button to produce the video file from your edits. Will you be frustrated by how long it takes to produce the video? If you do this task often, and it normally takes 3 min- utes, then 3 minutes will not seem like a long time. If there is a progress indicator, then you know what to expect. You’ll go pour yourself a cup of coffee and come back. But if it sometimes takes 30 seconds and sometimes takes 5 minutes, and you don’t know which one it’s going to be this time, then you will be very frustrated if it takes 3 minutes. Three minutes will seem much longer than it usually does.

Ten years ago if it took 20 seconds for a Web site to load, we didn’t think much of it. But these days if it takes more than 3 seconds you get impatient. There’s one Web site I go to regularly that takes 12 seconds to load. It seems like an eternity.

takeaways

Always provide progress indicators so people know how much time something is going to take. If possible, make the amount of time it takes to do a task or bring up information con- sistent, so people can adjust their expectations accordingly. To make a process seem shorter, break it up into steps and have people think less. It’s mental processing that makes something seem to take a long time.

37. there are four ways to be creative

Arne Dietrich (2004) wrote a paper on creativity from a brain and neuroscience point of view. Dietrich identifies four types of creativity with corresponding brain activities:

Deliberate and cognitive creativity Deliberate and emotional creativity Spontaneous and cognitive creativity Spontaneous and emotional creativity

Deliberate and cognitive creativity is the kind that comes from sustained work in a dis- cipline. For example, Thomas Edison

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to suc- cess when they gave up.

According to Dietrich, this type of creativity comes from the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is right behind your forehead. It’s not that the PFC is where creative thought takes place; it’s more that the PFC allows you to do two things: Pay focused attention. Make connections among bits of information you’ve stored in other parts of your brain.

For deliberate, cognitive creativity to occur, you need to have a pre-existing body of knowledge about one or more particular topics. When you’re being deliberatively and cognitively creative, you’re putting together existing information in new and novel ways.

This type of creativity also involves the PFC. That is the deliberate part. But instead of focusing attention on a partic- ular area of knowledge or expertise, people who engage in deliberate, emotional creativ- ity have a-ha moments having to do with feelings and emotions.

The amygdala is where emotions and feelings are processed, in particular, the basic emotions of love, hate, fear, and so on. Interestingly, the PFC is not connected to the amygdala. But there is another part of your brain that also has to do with emotions. That is the cingulate cortex. This part of the brain works with more complex feelings that are related to how you interact with others and your place in the world. And the cingulated cortex is connected to the PFC.

By doing a different, unrelated activity, the PFC is able to connect information in new ways via your unconscious mental pro- cessing. The story about Isaac Newton thinking of gravity while watching a falling apple is an example of spontaneous and cognitive creativity. Notice that this type of creativity does require an existing body of knowledge. That is the cognitive part.

pontaneous and emotional creativity comes from the amygdala. The amygdala is where basic emotions are processed. When the conscious brain and the PFC are at

Sara Mednick, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, wrote a book called Take a Nap, Change Your Life (2006), based on the research she and others have done on creativity and problem solving. In a typical experiment, she gave participants puzzles to solve. Before they solved the puzzles she would have them take a nap. Par- ticipants who went into REM sleep during the nap solved 40 percent more puzzles after the nap than when they worked on the puzzles in the morning after a full night’s sleep. People who just rested or napped without REM sleep actually did worse.

takeaways

There are different ways to be creative. If you’re designing an experience that is sup- posed to foster creativity, decide first which type of creativity you are talking about and design for that.

Deliberate and cognitive creativity requires a high degree of knowledge and lots of time. If you want people to show this type of creativity, you have to make sure you are providing enough prerequisite information. You need to give resources of where peo- ple can go to get the information they need to be creative. You also need to give them enough time to work on the problem.

Deliberate and emotional creativity requires quiet time. You can provide questions or things for people to ponder, but don’t expect that they will be able to come up with answers quickly and just by interacting with others at a Web site. For example, creat- ing an online support site for people with a particular problem might ultimately result in deliberate and emotional creativity, but the person will probably have to go offline and have quiet time to have the insights. Suggest that they do that and then come back online to share their insights with others. Spontaneous and cognitive creativity requires stopping work on the problem and get- ting away. If you are designing a Web application or site where you expect people to solve a problem with this kind of creativity, you will need to set up the problem in one stage and then have them come back a few days later with their solution. Spontaneous and emotional creativity probably can’t be designed for. Remember that your own creative process for design follows these same rules. Allow yourself time to work on a creative design solution, and when you are stuck, sleep on it.

38. people can be in a flow state

Whatever the activity, you become totally engrossed, totally in the moment. Everything else falls away, your sense of time changes, and you almost forget who you are and where you are. What I’m describing is called a flow state.

takeaways

If you’re trying to design for, or induce, a flow state (for example, you are a game designer):

Give people control over their actions during the activity. Break up the difficulty into stages. People need to feel that the current goal is challeng- ing, yet achievable. Give constant feedback. Minimize distractions.

39. culture affects how people think

Fortunately there is more and more research coming out of various parts of the world, and more individual studies being conducted in multiple loca- tions. Psychological research now is less focused on one region or group as it has been in the past.

takeaways

People from different geographical regions and cultures respond differently to photos and Web site designs. In East Asia people notice and remember the background and context more than people in the West do. If you are designing products for multiple cultures and geographical regions, then you had better conduct audience research in multiple locations. When reading psychology research, you might want to avoid generalizing the results if you know that the study participants were all from one geographical region. Be careful of overgeneralizing.

How people focus their attention


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